A food system built on care – it’s happening!

Autumn has arrived in earnest and with it has come three brilliant examples of food citizenship in action. Of course, there is also difficult news every day, particularly in food and farming, and there much to be frustrated and worried about. But there is also much to feel nourished and excited by in terms of active hope that things can change, and indeed are changing. These three things are a snapshot of the incredible amount of citizen energy, agitation and commitment to making things better that is visible right across the UK: 

Bridging the Gap 

Bridging the Gap came to Northern Ireland and, with Nourish NI, convened a brilliant session with people and organisations all passionate about improving access to sustainable food for all. To be in a room with reps from Sustainable Food Places, The Larder, Landworkers Alliance, Carrick Greengrocers (of which I am a co-founder) and many others including organic and regenerative growers was inspiring. We worked together to sketch out what a Bridging the Gap pilot would look like in Northern Ireland. In a room full of organisations and people all working with not enough resources or capacity to meet the scale of the problem, it was really notable that collaboration, not competition, was what we wanted. No one was led or swayed by the potential of funding for their group, rather we all looked at the issues as a whole, and collectively agreed on things to test that would improve the whole system, not just our own small corner of it. Really, it was food citizenship in action – the principle that we are by nature collaborative, empathic creatures who want to work together in the collective interest.  

Striking the Balance 

The Nature Friendly Farming Network released an important report this month. Striking the Balance is an in-depth analysis of 17 farm businesses in Northern Ireland which reveals that it is possible, and profitable, to transition to nature friendly farming, and importantly, that doing so has wider benefits for farmers’ wellbeing and work-life balance. This echoes the work of my brilliant colleague Abi, our Dairy Project Lead at the Food Ethics Council, to centre the experiences, concerns and ambitions of dairy farmers in the shift to fairer, more ethical dairy systems.  

I was invited to the Striking the Balance launch to be part of a panel discussing how we can ensure that farmers and growers making the transition to nature friendly systems can receive a fair price for their produce, whilst also keeping good, local, sustainable food affordable for all. Food citizenship is rooted in the belief that when discussing the value of food (economic and cultural), we should focus our attention on the systems and conditions that govern citizens’ lives, and not draw big conclusions from their individual choices. This is important because it is impossible to make good choices without good options, and it’s the systems that decide what the options are. 

The Food Conversation 

Lastly, and most recently, I’m really moved to share the findings from the Food Farming and Countryside Commission’s National Conversation on Food. All of the results are available in depth here and I’d encourage anyone interested in food, power, communities and accountability to take note. This is indisputable evidence that citizens care about food, care about farmers, care about each other AND expect the government and business to act to make food fairer for all. I can’t say it better than citizens do themselves – spend some time with them. You won’t regret it.